Allow your screenplay to serve as a blueprint to a larger art form–a conversation with writer/director Brett Miller

Posted by

Screenwriting-Class-480x450

“A screenplay is a blueprint for a larger art form,” so says Brett Miller.   It may offer direction and structure, but many of the details are left to a director’s artistic decisions, ever mindful of that director’s responsibility is to the producer who is responsible to the investors.

Bret Miller should know.  He has written and worked with others’ screenplays.

Mentored by MSU Professor Bill Vincent,  who had instructed Sam Raimi when he was at State and has been an actor/producer known for The Evil Dead (1981), Army of Darkness (1992) and Evil Dead (2013),  Miller has written some twenty screenplays,  some on spec and some he was hired to do.  As a writer, Bret has sold and optioned five scripts. Ash and Bone, produced by Painted Creek Productions, his latest, is set to premiere early 2020.

He is credited with having directed 11 films, including Some Are Born, for which Bill Vincent penned the script  and the Collective Development Inc. (CDI) production of “Chasing the Star.”

Bret Miller consented to this interview and talks here at length about screenwriting and directing films.

My contention is that people more often don’t consider the people who wrote a narrative than they do the others who appear in it. I would like to give the screenwriter more focus. I understand that you have had five of your screenplays produced. Is this correct?

 

I’ve written about twenty screenplays. Some on spec, some I’ve been hired to do. It’s funny, but I’d say that about half of them are so unreadable that they’ll never see the light of day. But that was part of the process for me; each script, no matter how bad, was another step for me.

I wrote my first screenplay while I was in college. It was a ‘who done it’ type horror script, in the vein of “Scream” or “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. I had an amazing mentor, Bill Vincent at MSU. He read several of my early screenplays, and his notes were huge in my progression.

How many had you written before the first was produced as a movie, either a short or a feature? And which screenplay was this?

That’s a good question. My mention of ‘twenty screenplays’ was in regard to features. I’ve written twenty features, and probably closer to ten short scripts. I directed several of my shorts in college, so I grew up in more of a director model as opposed to a writer. I think having the experience in both has helped me more than I could ever really explain. So, my early short scripts were produced while in school, while it took much more time and craft before my first feature was produced.

Are these all available somewhere online?

Yes. My shorts are available on several different platforms, and the features are both free on Amazon Prime.
Would this be on platforms such as Youtube and Vimeo? And if someone were interested in viewing your work, would this be found under your name or the name of your production company?


Yes, I have films on Youtube and Vimeo. They can be found on my website — bretmillerfilmmaker.com

Noted. I am always looking for something new to watch. As an independent producer/director you have more latitude to be truly creative. Do you agree?

I think the idea of creativity is a bit unique to the artist. When directing both of my features, there was always a hard stop with particular creative decisions because I had a responsibility to the producers who hired me and their investors. Conversely, I’ve had commercial shoots where I had a ton of creative freedom. Quite the opposite of what one would expect! Even the feature scripts written on spec have limitations. I direct and produce, so I have a pretty good idea of the market. You will never see a helicopter flight, or giant monsters, or extreme set pieces in my scripts. Because I know that producers will be turned off by those types of plot points. Even when I’m at my most creative, there is always a voice in the back of my head begging me to keep it alive. If I write something that has no chance of being made, it’s dead on arrival.

Each experience is unique, of course.

(On your site now). Looking at the films which were produced, is there one that exemplifies your work best?

I guess I’d let audiences be the one to tell me that! But I love the little monster shorts that I make with my friends. “Red Skies,”” Pretorius,” and “Apollyon” were all extremely fun to make.

Of these, I know “Red Skies” had taken a couple of awards. Did the other two as well?

Yep, both films have won several awards. It’s hard for me to recall specifics, but Pretorius won locally at the Southeast Michigan Film Festival, which is great fest. Apollyon is on a three festival hot-streak, with wins at the Slice of Fright Film Festival, Desmond District Demons Film Festival, and Flint Fright Fest.

Congratulations! This must be really rewarding. Now as for your features, was it Some Are Born that was your first feature?

Thank you! I’m not big on awards, but it’s always nice when people understand what it is I’m trying to say. Yes, “Some Are Born was my first feature. It was written by my mentor, and it was a quick baptism by fire. I adore that film, even to this day.

I have seen “Some Are Born” more than once. I really enjoyed the changes that you witness in your protagonist as he becomes more popular. What’s surprising is that although you are credited with having been the director, you are not credited with having written it. Did you write and direct this movie?

Thank you for the kind words! I did not write “Some Are Born. My mentor, Bill Vincent, had written the film. He had been trying to see it made for years, and my team and I were able to put it together.
Bill Vincent was a film instructor at MSU. He also instructed Sam Raimi when he was at Michigan State. How did you like studying under Bill Vincent?

Bill and I are great friends, and that is where our relationship started. I’ve always respected his wisdom, and he always gave me the freedom to be as creative as I could be. I would not be where I am today with Bill, I’m sure of it.In directing “Some Are Born,” what input were you allowed in what was created?Well, the script is always just a blueprint. So, as the director, I had the most input. Bill was great at being a sounding board for me, and the script was in such good shape when he gave it to me. But, ultimately, all the creative decisions were made by me. The good, and the bad.https://youtu.be/hqvr3PEa0qgDid you find the same thing true when you directed the Collective Development production of “Chasing the Star”? How were you approached to direct this production? And what was your experience like working with this group?

 

I had an excellent experience working with CDI, DJ Perry in particular. I was approached after Some Are Born to talk about my experiences, and we really hit it off. I was offered the job sometime after. Chasing The Star was interesting because bible movies are really tough to adapt. There are so many interesting stories in the Bible, but you have to be very careful. For some people, one omits here or there is akin to blasphemy. So, while I had complete freedom to create a style I wanted, there were always limitations on how the story was going to unfold.
Completely understood. Now, more recently, you have had a feature script optioned to be made into a movie. This is one you wrote. That is one that Harley Wallen is directing. It is entitled “Ash and Bone.” How were you approached for this?

Harley and I had worked together before, and he knew I had optioned and sold scripts in the past. He was having trouble with an ending on a particular script, and he asked my opinion. I had an idea and ended up writing a completely new draft. That led to me writing two original screenplays for him — one being “Ash and Bone.”

 

The other you are not at liberty to talk about of course.

Haha, right. Not yet

Having written screenplays, and having worked with others screenplays, which do you prefer?

I don’t know if I have a preference. I think it’s interesting to look at the difference between writing and directing. What I like about directing is working and communicating with others. What I like about writing is that I can work from home with my dog sleeping at my feet. As long as the story is interesting, then I’m excited to direct it! There are scripts that I’ve sold that I have zero interest in directing, and there are others that I would love to direct.

What is the single biggest criticism you have regarding other’s screenplays?

My mentor always told me “The only thing a screenwriter can do is turn in the script, go sit by the pool, and cry.” The director is inevitably going to make decisions that I don’t agree with. That’s an absolute reality. The difference between those who make it, and those who don’t are the ones who can learn to push past those thoughts, and continue to work on communicating with the other creatives.

The single biggest criticism I have for other screenplays are scripts that are written with an insane amount of detail. Scripts aren’t supposed to be art by themselves; it’s a simple blueprint for a larger art form. Unless it has a narrative plot point, I don’t want to read a full paragraph about the type of clothes the main character wears. That’s a director and costume designer decision, not the writer.

 

 For more on Bret Miller, visit his website.  That’s bretmillerfilmmaker.com

Or connect and follow Bret Miller on Facebook.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.